Prince Albert, the Royal Consort, passes from a troubled existence in December 1861. Devastated by the loss of her “Beloved”, her “All in All,” Queen Victoria goes into deep mourning. But first she demands an audience with Patrick Fitzgerald, an Irish barrister who defended a man accused of trying to usurp the throne. Instructed to sign a document denying the authenticity of that claim, Fitzgerald refuses.
Thus begins a fast-paced journey through the streets of London, to the slums of St. Giles, to Cannes, France and Coburg, Germany, where a complicated history of the royal line is buried in deceit and secrecy. The first salvo comes when Fitzgerald’s coach is ambushed on its return from the palace, the coachman killed, Fitzgerald and his companion, Georgiana Armistead, an Edinburgh-trained physician, barely escaping with their lives.
Uncertain of the reason for the attacks, Patrick and Georgiana have yet to realize the danger they are in and that further treachery that awaits. The following day, Fitzgerald goes to his law offices to discover everything in shambles and his partner bleeding from a serious head wound. Arranging medical attention, Patrick rushes to Georgiana’s home to find she has gone to the slums of St. Giles to attend an ailing patient.
In St. Giles, a group of thugs races through the tenement in search of their prey - Georgiana and Patrick. Another narrow escape ensues. Although Georgiana is reluctant, she is forced by circumstances to agree with Fitzgerald that they are indeed pursued by those who mean them harm. Yet another narrow escape leads the young physician and the barrister to the remote island of Fitzgerald’s once-beautiful estranged wife, who is in the final stages of a fatal disease.
Even this place proves accessible to those who follow, a group of ruffians headed by the queen’s man, Count von Stuhlen, a childhood friend of Prince Albert. The count is evil incarnate, a man with no reservations about the necessity of killing his prey. Although the count has not yet ascertained the queen’s motives, he intends to find out.
No method is too extreme for von Stuhlen, expedience his only criteria in a race against time that leads from England to France to Germany and a meeting with Victoria’s son, the delicate eight-year-old Leopold. As Fitzgerald and Georgiana gradually decipher Victoria’s secrets, the danger increases exponentially and von Stuhlen barely steps behind, leaving destruction and death in his wake.
In a well-paced novel that accelerates by the chapter, Barron creates an intricate web of intrigue with romantic tension between the hunted couple and the curious nature of a queen’s twisted mind, obsessed by appearances and her passion for a man driven by honor and duty. While the count pursues, his quarry persistently tracks the truth, leading to a shocking ending as masterful as it is chilling: “Truth’s a curse to monarchs everywhere.”